Harken back, to the era of floppy disks and shareware, when a gallon of gas only cost you a $1! Hear me, and yearn again for the days of billboard sprites, the fidelity of 16-bit graphics! Be whisked to the golden year of 1996, and imagine (if you can) a game built on id Tech 1; the original Doom engine, hacked and slashed to serve the needs of a FPS/RPG hybrid. In this fantasy, picture it being… I don’t know, perhaps, high fantasy meets low tech? And behold! You are picturing Strife!
In the good ol’ yesteryear, several years before now-defunct Rogue Entertainment undertook cult classic American McGee’s Alice, they saw fit to broach the boundaries of a radical, new genre, one that we’ve all come to know and love in our current generation: the monolithic FPSRPG. Paving the way for the immersive sim and even the looter shooter, Rogue crafted Strife as a fusion for the ages. Its first-person perspective gives way to a sweeping epic, two factions pit against one another. On one side, the sinister religious zealots of The Order who wish for nothing except humanity’s ritualistic cleansing through the grip of an iron fist around society. Pit against them, rebels donning the moniker of The Front, an insurgent uprising against the totalitarian regime.
You find yourself in the town of Tarnhill, built in the aftermath of a plague sweeping the planet from a rogue comet plowing into it, it’s a pleasant locale featuring all sorts of important Order bases. Quickly dispatching guards coming for you, you are whisked into serving the Front and acting as something of a wild card in their operations. Dealing with The Order’s power supply, resources, and logistics, Strife presents a bevy of missions spanning several hours, featuring nuanced approaches that allow for improvisation. Instead of charging into the room housing the city’s generator, guns ablaze, you could attempt speaking to the guards and trick them into believing you’re a new replacement worker.
Chirping in your ear is your handler, Blackbird. She guides your subterfuge and acts as liaison between you and The Front. Those familiar with the imsim genre could easily see her as proto-S.H.O.D.A.N. from the tinges of something akin to foreshadowing from her, but proves as a useful helper regardless since the engine lacks a full-on, detailed description of your current quest. She delivers suggestions and important things to focus on within each mission’s location, which can be immensely handy when dealing with areas that can sometimes feel like mazes.
To take on missions, the player moves through Tarnhill as a hub area, the locations you’re sent to branching off from it. For 1996 and id Tech 1, the town serving as a hub to interconnected areas feels massive, and exceedingly ahead of its time. Tarnhill contains not only these destinations, but also the Front’s hidden base, and several shops for health packs and ammo. In between tasks, you can spend your hard earned gold from quests on these things to stock up for the next outing as well as purchase power-ups to increase max health and accuracy. NPCs also inhabit this place, townsfolk and Order soldiers alike, all capable of being talked to. Most will spout generic lines, but some are quest givers, and others offer hints in exchange for currency.
Given this is such a dusty, old game, it’s a boon that the wonderful folks at Nightdive Studios (@NightdiveStudio) saw fit to remaster the game and put out the “Veteran Edition” which brings modern hardware upgrades for the title such as proper widescreen support and new lighting/rendering systems. Rogue had lost the original source code for Strife, so the upgraded version took advantage of a fanproject, Chocolate Strife, which reverse engineered the majority of the game’s code. Nightdive acquired the help of some of Strife’s original coding team to flesh out the rest.
Strife is a fascinating game, and one that deserves plenty of praise. Far ahead of its contemporaries, it’s a foundational title that has stood the test of time. A story with multiple endings, non-linear gameplay, and now-charming retro graphics, Strife is certainly a game worth spending some time with if you haven’t. Just make sure you keep your knife close, I think I can hear the Order nearing us…
Strife: Veteran Edition is now available on Steam.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.